Going Home - Common Problems

Post Intensive Care Syndrome

Post intensive care syndrome is a label that encompasses many of the difficulties that patients experience after a long stay in the ICU. Usually these experiences are not a direct result of the illness that brought a person to hospital, but rather are a consequence of spending a long time in the ICU in a very ill state. Learn more.


When spending the entire day, lying in bed (regardless of whether you are ill or not), people lose approximately 2% of their muscle mass each day for the first three weeks. In addition, people who are critically ill can sometimes experience muscle and nerve dysfunction. Regular, progressive exercise is usually the fix for this problem. Often this is something as simple as a regular walking program. Depending on your health condition, community exercise programs such as those offered by the Alberta Healthy Living Program can be a great option. ahs.ca/ahlp


Fatigue is similar to acquired weakness however it encompasses a broader range of feelings. Fatigue also includes a feeling of tiredness, a feeling of lethargy. Fatigue can be overcome by getting regular sleep, participating in regular exercise and being involved in community activities, or other group programs. Learn more.

Thinking Skills

After a severe illness or injury to the brain, an individual’s thinking ability, or cognition, is often effected. This can be seen with issues to memory, spatial skills, reasoning, and attention. Often impaired cognition is measured through a verbal examination with a physician or trained individual.

Sleeping Problems

While in the ICU, patients are often unable to get proper rest because of the constant busy nature of the unit. The stimulus never stops for these patients. From the uncomfortable tubes and wires, to the constant light, to the hustle and bustle of care teams attending to other patients. Getting a good sleep after leaving the ICU is very important to overall care. Poor sleep can lead to fatigue or changes in attitude. Learn more.

Insomnia is characterized by an inability to fall asleep. This can be caused my medication, or a medical condition, including depression. If you believe that you have insomnia contact your family physician for possible treatments. Learn more.


After experiencing a life changing, and sometimes traumatic event, an individual’s mood can be affected. It is important to attend to all aspects of your health after a critical illness. If present, these conditions can be mild but they can sometimes be severe. If you or a family member is concerned about mood or anxiety after ICU, contact your primary care provider.


Patients within in the ICU are often intubated (meaning, a breathing tube is placed in the windpipe to protect a person’s ability to move air in and out of the lungs). This is an important, life-saving step but sometimes people notice that their voice (called dysphonia) and ability to swallow[ is affected after the tube is removed. This is usually a temporary effect and it resolves with time. If these things aren’t improving over time, a Speech Language Pathologist can sometimes help.

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In addition to intubation sometimes causing voice and swallowing difficulties, sometimes people are admitted to the ICU because of a head injury, stroke, or other neurological condition. In these cases, people’s swallowing and communication difficulties might be related to the underlying diagnosis for being in the ICU, rather than as a consequence of treatment in the ICU. Conditions like aphasia require expert assessment and rehabilitation.